SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Florida's Billy Donovan hasn't won two national championships and been to three Final Fours without knowing a little about the coaching fraternity. So, he certainly can sense when a member of that group is hurting.
Friday night was one of those times.
"I've known him since I was playing," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "And I feel bad for everybody involved up here. I just told him I'm thinking about him. I'm sure it's taken a lot out of him."
It certainly appears to.
On this night, Donovan was referring to his opposition, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, the embattled 67-year-old Hall of Fame coach who appeared like his normal stoic self on the sideline of the No. 4 Orange's 72-68 win over the No. 10 Gators at the Carrier Dome.
But in the postgame press conference, as the focus turned toward an intense federal investigation into his program, it was a different story.
Boeheim, suddenly, was visibly emotional and full of regret.
"I believe I misspoke very badly in my response to the allegations that have been made," a humbled Boeheim said. "I shouldn't have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that and I regret any harm that I caused.
"It was insensitive to the individuals involved and especially to the overall issue of child abuse."
The coach returned to the subject of his fired former assistant coach, Bernie Fine, apologizing for his initial remarks involving the men who accused Fine of molestating them as minors. Two of the three men were former Syracuse ballboys. Fine has maintained his innocence.
Boeheim said it was important that he get involved in terms of raising awareness and promised he would.
"I'm going to do everything I can to do that, whether I'm coaching or not coaching," he said.
Some sex abuse victims' advocates said Boeheim should resign or be fired for his initial disparaging comments about the accusers. Boeheim said he was acting "out of loyalty."
"I acted without thinking. I couldn't believe what I was hearing," he said.
As he did at Tuesday's home win over Eastern Michigan, Boeheim received a warm ovation when he was introduced to a crowd of 24,459. It was the largest on-campus attendance in the nation so far this season, and it included former Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony and former Orange assistant Rob Murphy, in his first year at EMU, in front-row seats.
Throughout this process, it's been clear that Boeheim has the support of his players, a unit that is now 8-0.
"Coach Boeheim is our father," Scoop Jardine said. "He's a big part of this team, a big part of this community. He's taught me a lot the five years I've been here. We play hard for him. We play hard for ourselves.
"It's our season and we want to protect it."
So far, so good.
Syracuse breezed to its first seven wins with an average margin of victory of 26 points, but the Gators (5-2), whose only previous loss was by seven at No. 2 Ohio State, figured to provide a stiff challenge and they did in a game that seemed like a midseason encounter in the Big East.
One again, the game was secondary.
"It's been crazy," said Matt Roe, a Syracuse star from the late 1980s who does color on radio broadcasts. "Nonstop for 14 days. What am I going to say? I don't know anything. (Boeheim) is a good man."
He certainly seemed to have the support of the crowd, as well, especially fans in the jammed student section, where one sign said, "In Boeheim We Trust" and another, "In Jim We Trust."
As for the game, Brandon Triche had 20 points and Jardine finished with 16 and seven assists for the Orange. Kenny Boynton led Florida with 22 points and Erving Walker had 17.
Neither team led by more than six points in a first half that was tied six times.
Florida, which entered the game shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc and was averaging 12 3-pointers a game, went 3 of 14 from long range in the period – all by Erving Walker – while the Orange struggled even more, hitting just 1 of 10.
Syracuse still managed to forge ahead at the break, 31-27, behind seven points each from Kris Joseph, Fab Melo and Triche.
After the Orange built a 39-30 lead early in the second, Boynton led the Gators back with three 3s, the last putting Florida back on top 49-46 with 9:19 to go. Triche tied it for the fourth time in the period 11 seconds later with his first 3 of the game.
Jardine fed Joseph for a one-handed slam to break the tie and Jardine's steal and layup had the Orange up 54-49 with 6:20 to go and the crowd shaking the Carrier Dome.
The roar reached another crescendo when Jardine hit a runner in the lane as the shot clock neared zero, Joseph fed C.J. Fair for a baseline jumper, and Jardine hit a 3 from the left wing in a span of 2:19.That gave Syracuse a 61-53 lead with 3:52 left and the Gators couldn't rally back.